I actually wanted to write an article about multiple games I conciser classical, but instead of that I wrote a big post about Wario Land 4. I might write about other classics in the future (since I really like doing this sort of thing).
Wario is one of my favorite video game characters of all time. He first appeared as Mario's rival, but got his own series pretty close after that. The fourth installment of the series is my favorite (with a special mention to The Shake Dimension, the fifth part in the series).
Wario has a money obsession. Both the story as the gameplay is based on this. In order to gain more cash, he goes to investigate a recently discovered pyramid. He quickly finds himself trapped inside the pyramid.
After completing the superb tutorial, the game lets the player choose which of the four worlds to play through first. Each level has several things you need to collect in order to proceed. The Keyser will unlock the next level in the world for you, while the four gem parts need to be inserted in the boss door in order to open. These five objects can be hidden very well, so you always have to play them more than once. An optional collectible is the CD, which are ridiculously well hidden, sometimes even in plain sight.
Wario has an unique moveset. He can dash into his enemies, run to smash into blocks, ground pounding, and has all his wacky transformations that open up all kinds of puzzles. Wario clearly does not want anyone to take him seriously, and that is why he is such a amazing character to play.
I've praised the game a lot by now, but I haven't mentioned the major feature of the game! Each level has a feature unique to that level (most of the time even more than one!), whether it are floating carpets or turning cogwheels. What is more important is that every level puts that gimmick to it's best use, making this game a bit of a puzzle platformer as well. You can take your time and think about all the puzzles (also provided in the very well hidden puzzle rooms which usually give out a diamond when you successfully finish the puzzle) until you come at the end of the level. Well... should I say, end? Once you press the frog switch at the end of the level, a timer appears and you must race back to the beginning of the level before the timer runs out! (This event is also called The Fold by some.) Sometimes you can travel back using an earlier found route, but most of the time you are forced to take another route back to the beginning. Now, the puzzles go accompanied by haste, and you must balance your hunger for treasure and your need to get to the goal in time. You do all this when hearing the most intense sounding track of the game, which only makes the hurry more epic.
This mechanic is really simple, but it's also quite ingenious. Ofter the Keyser and some gem parts can only be obtained after the frog switch is pressed, so you must still keep your focus when racing back to the start. If the time runs out before you've reached the goal, the game will start eating your money instead! If you've run out of money then you're really done for. This mechanic makes sure you always grab as many money as you can find in order to stay safe if you are having trouble getting to the finish in time.
I could talk quite some time about this game, with all it's levels, enemies, and bosses, but fact is, someone already did that. Daniel Primed has written a very, very deep analysis about Wario Land 4. Aside from a lot of blog posts, he has written a (e)book about it: "Game Design Companion - A critical analysis of Wario Land 4". I've only read some excerpts from it, but it looks like an amazing piece of documentation that could come in handy if you like (making) Nintendo-styled games like this. More info: http://danielprimed.com/warioland4/.
So what do I think about Wario Land 4? It is my favorite GBA game. This game also inspired the 'final countdown' in Micro Massive, which is almost directly taken over from Wario Land. This game really weird, but still manages to serve a strong gameplay based around money and time. The semi-open words are a joy to explore, most of which are filled to the bottom with puzzles. And, most importantly, the game is fun. We'll just keep it at that.
Wario Land 4 is (C) Nintendo, by the way. You can get this via Wii U Virtual Console. Level map obtained here.